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Saddleback College

With a student population of more than 25,000, Saddleback College is one of California’s largest community colleges. Located in Orange County, Saddleback College is a comprehensive two-year community college with more than 140 certificate and degree programs. The college is home to the Marine Science Technology department, which helps students learn about marine science by combining traditional classroom lectures with hands-on lab activities and field excursions. Longstanding department offerings include certificate programs in Seamanship and Marine Science Technician.  
A First in California 
However, an addition to the department – a certificate program in Aquarium and Aquaculture Science – has created the most excitement lately. Julie Anderson, the program’s developer and acting director, says that the program began with pilot courses that were first offered in 1998. “When you’re working on a boat, scientists bring up animals for live observation, and somebody needs to be able to keep them alive,” she says. “We needed a course that provided basic aquatic husbandry skills and the ability to take care of these animals.” 
The pilot courses, Marine Aquarium Systems and Management of Marine Aquariums, were so successful that the department built an entire program around them. Fast-forward six years: the program now consists of nine courses that focus on the science of rearing and caring for marine and freshwater organisms and the chemical, physical, and biological environment of the aquarium ecosystems.

"When you’re working on a boat, scientists bring up animals for live observation, and somebody needs to be able to keep them alive"

The certificate program helps professionals already working in the field to upgrade their skills, and prepares entry-level students for careers in public aquariums, interpretive centers, the pet industry, and private businesses. With a faster-than-average growth rate predicted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for aquarium and aquaculture-related professions, Anderson says the market is hot right now. “We were placing students in jobs and internships prior to the approval of the program,” she explains. “They’re getting picked up faster than we can get them through the program!” 
Saddleback College’s Aquarium and Aquaculture Science program is the first of its kind in California’s community college system, and one of only ten such accredited programs nationwide. It received approval from the state chancellor’s office in October 2004, even though the courses were approved last spring and have been offered since then. “We expect to have five to ten students graduate from the program this spring and summer,” says Anderson.  
Hands-On Learning on Campus and at Partner Facilities 
Saddleback College houses a recently upgraded 4,500 square foot aquarium and aquaculture science facility that supports up to 30 students at a time and circulates more than 2,000 gallons of seawater. At the aquarium facility, students care for a variety of aquatic animals, including cool and warm water marine species such as soft and hard corals, jellyfish, urchins, stars, perch, bass, skates, and even four sharks. They hone their aquarium and aquaculture skills with daily activities such as monitoring and adjusting water quality, life support maintenance, nutrition and feeding, observation, handling and acclimating, and captive rearing and propagation techniques while developing important data acquisition and record-keeping skills. 
Anderson, who is also a senior lab technician and associate faculty member, says that the program’s hands-on classes and labs are its biggest attraction. “The students learn more than just marine biology and realize that it is more than just a hobby,” she says. “They learn how to keep the animals thriving and healthy. They learn to respect the ocean and everything in it.” 
In addition, Saddleback College has been able to develop strong collaborative efforts with major public educational facilities, which enable students to participate in off-campus workshops. “Working directly with the animals really gets the students excited,” she says. “When I see a student’s eyes light up, that’s what really makes me tick.” 

"When I see a student’s eyes light up, that’s what really makes me tick"

Partnering with the MATE Center  
In May 2002, Saddleback College became an educational partner of the MATE Center. Since then, says Anderson, the Center’s input into the development of the Aquarium and Aquaculture Science program has been invaluable. “We absolutely couldn’t have done it without MATE’s partnership,” she says. 
Anderson credits the Center with two important aspects of program development. Initially, the Center gave her access to a network of people and organizations that advised her on the fundamentals of developing the program and shared existing information. “Through partnering with MATE we gained a couple of really good collaborations,” she continues. “I had good contacts at a regional level, but through MATE connections we were also able to take advantage of work that had been achieved on a national level.” 
For example, Anderson used MATE’s Knowledge and Skills Guidelines for aquarium and aquaculture technicians to develop an appropriate curriculum. “When I looked at the K&S Guidelines, I realized that everything we needed to develop the curriculum was right there,” she says. “The only thing we needed to do was have our advisory board review it and adapt it to our specific regional and local needs.”  
Anderson is pleased with the continued growth of the entire Marine Science Technology department, which is currently seeking a full-time faculty member. Curriculum in all areas is being updated and Anderson expects that the MATE Center will assist in curriculum development again. “We’ve already added a class called Subsea Technology – ROVs,” she explains. “And we’re working with other program areas to tie in a GIS course and an electronics course for the marine science technician program.”  
As Saddleback College continues to expand its Marine Science Technology department, many more opportunities for collaborating with the MATE Center will be available. From aquaculture to ROVs to GIS, the partnership between the two will only become stronger!

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This project is supported, in part, by the NationalScience Foundation.  Opinions expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation .